Monday, May 31, 2010

New Life

As I was filling the watering can from one of the rain barrels, I saw that I was disturbing resident mosquito larvae (sorry guys). It made me wonder what would be the first aquatic residents to make it back to our pond. We (the Royal we) have changed the pond liner. The new liner is in and the pond has been full of water for a week.Today, as I was doing the pre-mowing dog poo patrol on the lawn, I went and had a look to see what was going on with the pond. Pond Skater

It turns out that pond skaters and diving beetles were the first to return!You can make out the young diving beetle in the upper right hand corner of that photo. These diving beetles get much bigger - about the size of a quarter or fifty pence piece. They're very carnivorous beetles as well. I don't know if anything else will be able to colonise that pond. Certainly I no longer fear the mosquito larvae. Hungry beetles will make short work of them. I wonder if I could catch one or two and pop them into the rain barrels to eat the larvae there. . . . it's a thought.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Pond Upgrade

When we bought our place 15 years ago we discovered the southwest corner of our front garden is where the outhouses used to live. For the first year or so we didn't really do anything with it. You could make out the two square, brick-lined holes and these holes would fill half way up with water when it rained. We decided that instead of ignoring the low wet corner of the garden, we'd take advantage of the situation and put a real pond there. The Man of the Place evened out the ground in and around the two former outhouses and did the best he could with these features. We lined our new pond site with old carpets that had been lifted from the house.

Not long after we moved in, we redecorated and pulled up some of the ugliest carpets ever produced. I have a theory about carpets, the uglier they are, the longer they will wear. The orange and brown swirly carpets we pulled up were actually 80% wool and must have cost a small fortune to put down at one time. The carpets and worn out underlay were used to cover over any sharp things that would puncture a pond liner.

We wanted a nice butyl pond liner but discovered that these premium rubber liners with a 12 year warranty also had a premium price and we could not afford a butyl liner. We saw that the next option on the list was a plastic liner that only had a four year warranty. It was about this time that I found myself at the local agricultural supply place getting poultry supplies and saw some silage pit liners off to one corner. Those are merely big sheets of black plastic. Even the smallest silage pit liner was cheaper than a plastic pond liner and was the same gage of black plastic. When we got the liner out to put in the pond we discovered just how huge a silage pit liner actually is. The old pond liner

The liner was folded in half and then in half again. It was then covered with stones and soil and thus protected from the destructive rays of the sun. This worked for over 12 years - the same as a butyl line would have worked. We love our pond.All sort of lovely things came to live in the pond. Frogs, newts, Great diving beetles (and their evil looking larvae), pond skaters and even some leeches!As the years rolled on the pond matured. Did you know that water lilies are fussy about the depth at which they will grow? We know now. The third water lily we tried in there worked beautifully. The fish we put in there did not. I suspect that local herons just picked them out as quickly as I put fish in there.

This year when I went to inspect the amount of frog and toad spawn I noticed that the water level in the pond was very very low. There was probably a puncture somewhere in the liner and it needed to be replaced.Last weekend the work started. The first part was the worst part of replacing a pond liner, cleaning out the pond. There was over a decade of leaves and other assorted detritus in there and it didn't smell very nice. In fact, it smelled like an old pond. Thank God for soap!

We think that it was a rodent that finally put an end to the pond liner. A labyrinth of vole tunnels were unearthed when the liner was finally lifted.Today the new silage pit liner was put in and the pond was re-filled.
The upgraded pond is deeper than the old one and much more level. When it was almost filled I was reminded of the clear cold springs that are found when canoeing at Juniper Springs in Florida.The Man of the Place has put his back out with all the work that has gone into the pond over the past two weekends. When he is feeling better, the surrounding stone will be replaced and some of the flora will be re-introduced back into our pond. We're hoping to keep the duck weed out of the pond this time and we're going to be extra vigilant about keeping each little tiny speck of that stuff out! Once duck weed is established - it is nigh on impossible to eradicate.Here is an evening shot of the upgraded pond. Still loads to be done, but the back breaking (almost literally) part is over. Well done darling!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Doing What Cats Do

It is a gorgeous day today! Warm, light breeze and only a few clouds in the sky.The cows are back out in the fields too. They look grateful to be back out in the fresh air after being in sheds, eating silage all winter. The cows sort of keep me company when I'm out in the garden.My friend Elaine called and asked if I wanted to go for a walk. I'll always go for a walk, especially with a friend on lovely spring days. I tucked my camera into my pocket in case I saw anything worth photographing.
Just as we were setting out we were met by our cat, Julio. He was strutting to the house with a prize, a stoat. The thing was still breathing. Poor creature! I called out to The Man of the Place and he assisted Julio in making certain that the stoat no longer suffered. Julio and stoat

Look! The animal is so large that it drags on the ground. Julio came home with a few scratches on his nose the other day. Today a few more scratches have been added to the collection. I suspect now that it was a stoat that had inflicted the earlier damage as the new scratches sort of match the old ones.Wild primroses

Settign out on the walk we saw lots of wild primrose. Bluebells are starting to pop out and they'll be at their peak in a week or two.

Back home Julio is sleeping in a sunbeam now after having a post-battle wash. He is one mighty hunter!! That is what cats do. I can't say that I like when he kills things but I wish he'd hunt moles.Photo by Dean of DDD

I've seen a couple of beautiful Orange tip butterflies. They only fly in the spring so it is always a treat to see them.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I watched yesterday as the new lone mole hill by the bird table turned into three mole hills. The bottom mole hill was first and was there when I woke up yesterday. I actually saw it getting bigger at one point! The little nearsighted creature was pushing dirt up as I watched.

By dinner time yesterday there were three mole hills where previously there were two. Why do they like my lawn when there is a HUGE field just a few metres away.

This morning I watched the mole make the top mole hill bigger. I could see him fluffing up the soil like the front garden was just a big feather duvet. The Man of the Place suggested that if I dash out there with my spade and scoop up the loose dirt, I would be able to not only see the mole but would be able to bash it on the head. It all sounded a bit violent and I couldn't bring myself to do it.

I know it's squeamish, girly and ever so slightly citified but I couldn't go out there and crush a mole's skull. I can do other murderous things. I can set and empty mouse traps, move spiders out of the tub, butcher, pluck and clean poultry and clear my nose by holding one nostril and blowing hard off to one side but I cannot whack-a-mole. I'm going to have to leave that bit of grizzly countryside life to the professionals. Time to call the Mike the gamekeeper.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Not Just Yet

The desire to plant up the garden is at its height just before the threat of frost passes. One is tempted to plant out all those tender plants that are waiting patiently in the greenhouse.
I know - from bitter experience - that if I do, they will die. We will almost certainly have a late frost OR wind that will blow hard for days and burn everything.

I'm waiting.The garden is dug over.The chickens were grateful recipients of all the perennial weeds. It solves the problem with what to do with these weeds. One cannot compost perennial weeds. Burning them isn't an option so the chicken run is a great place to throw these things. The chickens will kill them dead (and turn them into eggs)!So, while I wait I'll admire the boldness of the plum tree. This Victoria Plum doesn't care that it is not yet June and is going to bloom away despite the calender.The Forget-me-not is in bloom too. This particular flower can be found on the south side of our place at the foot of a clematis that will also be blooming soon. One year the spring winds blew for three days running and burnt the clematis blossom. See? It doesn't pay to be too early. I almost cut the whole climber down in disgust. Clematis montana Elizabeth is a rampant thug of a vine and I only tolerate it only because of the delicate pink, slightly perfumed flowers it shows in early spring.

I suppose I could put the cabbages and cauliflower out. They're pretty hardy. Maybe I'll do that today. We'll see . . . .

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Birthday Girl!

It is Cinco de Mayo and my dear cousin Paula's birthday. In honour of both we had Mexican food for dinner tonight. Well, as Mexican as you can get over here in Scotland. (I do my best)

Paula is one fantastic gal!! I have always been in awe of her. She is gorgeous, smart, a great sense of humor and has a wonderful family. I think her wedding was the first that I was ever allowed to attend. I was gobsmacked by the sight of her on her wedding day. I still remember her crimped hair (by Horst of Minneapolis) and the carrot wedding cake. :-)

Happy Birthday darling!

Monday, May 03, 2010

In The Garden

It was a nice spring day. Though I was warmed by my tasks, the sweater never came off. Laundry dried nicely on the line as The Man of the Place helped me to get the vegetable patch dug over.Chaffinch

I discovered to my delight that my dear neighbour Charlie is the owner of a rotovator! He was kind enough to loan it to me first thing this morning. Charlie even got it down to our place for me. I started it up and began the first few runs. I was quickly out of breath and tired. Those things are heavy and I have never had much in the way of upper body strength. I asked for assistance and it was given! So, though there is some raking to do, the ground is tilled! Yippee!! The weeds and grasses that were hauled out of the garden were thrown into the hen run. The chickens loved that! Siskin

There was a hard frost last night and it is a sharp reminder that we live in the far north. Nothing tender should venture outside the protection of the greenhouse until the end of May. A few warm dry days would tempt an impatient gardener to risk it, but don't.Goldfinch

I loved being out in the greenhouses early in the morning. I was out there watering a few seedlings and sipping my tea and I heard a buzzard scream. I looked and directly above me way up high a buzzard was circling. I know that it won't go for my hens when they're in their run so I just enjoyed watching it surf the air currents. Perhaps it is the same buzzard that was bold enough to sit by our pond a few weeks ago. I heard a curlew cry down by the burn and in the distance there was a woodpecker drumming. I felt that all was right with the world.

We've had a good week for birds here at the house. Our swallows came back today. I hope they enjoyed their stay in Africa and are ready to get busy. The last big storm knocked the swallow nest off so they'll have to rebuild. We will also have to be extra careful and keep the shed door shut. Swallows will nest in there if given half a chance.

Last week I had a new sighting at the bird feeder. I always get excited when I see something new. I couldn't figure out what the bird was that looked like a striped version of a sparrow.I managed these two blurred photos and sent them to Dean from Dean's Daily Diary (formerly Mostly Macro). From this flimsy documentation he helped me to identify the bird as a reed bunting! It thrilled my nerdy little heart. It's a new one to my life list. Thanks for the help Dean!

Here is a list of the birds that have been seen by me here at Whitelees in the past seven days:

Blue tit
Great tit
Coal tit
Mourning dove
Wood pigeon
Mistle thrush
House sparrow
Reed bunting (!)
Great spotted woodpecker
Canda goose (flew over in a big V)

I'm glad the garden is dug over as the forecast for tomorrow is drizzle (of course). The garden tools are safely stored and I am all set for the next burst of good weather to start putting some hardy things out in the garden to grow.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Do Over!

I have reported or rather complained over the years about our wet summers. It seems that as soon as I started this blog, weather in this part of the world, in particular the summers have been rubbish. Every year I forget the disappointments of the previous season and I dig over the garden and plant it up.

Last summer was the worst yet. It never stopped raining. Three non-rainy days together was rare. In addition to the resident humans getting quite fed up, things in the garden suffered from all sorts of damp induced infections. The potato crop was hideous with blight taking the bulk of it. Apple scab on the six apples, black spot on the roses and some sort of scab/black spot type infection on the cherry tree. The wettest summer on record (it was official) was followed by a particularly cold winter. I've experienced colder winters in the states of North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa but this was a cold winter for here. Remember that frozen drain? The winter killed off things that would normally make it through a Scottish winter. The fuchsias haven't made it and my dear old rosemary died. I liked that rosemary. I had started to get smug about its age and was starting to think that it was actually be hardier than ordinary rosemary. Here it is in the terracotta pot - it is truly dead - not a bit of green anywhere in the stems. photo of the same rosemary plant in May 2007

It had such lovely little blue flowers . . . . I bought a new little baby rosemary plant. With this new plant I am calling, "do over"! I've sprayed the roses and fruit trees with bordeaux mixture (copper sulfate) to fight the assorted blights and I'm giving potatoes a wide berth for a while as the soil in the vegetable patch is now officially infected for a number of years. I've cleared away the twigs from what remains of the crown of rhubarb. I've never seen rhubarb look so anaemic. I know that rhubarb can make it through a hard winter, but a hard winter following a poor summer has taken its toll. I have vowed that if this little crown (and it is only two years old) survives, I will not harvest any of it this year. It needs a year just to grow and get better.The standard fuchsia has died too. To tell the truth, I've never been good at getting a standard fuchsia to overwinter. I was advised to lay it on its side in the greenhouse and it would come through okay. Well it didn't. I suspect it needed to be in a heated greenhouse. I've still got the nice frost resistant blue pot. I'll try to get another and try again. You can see that my little greenhouse is up and working again (with such clean glass). The tomatoes are on the right in the red grow-bags and there is a lone cucumber plant at the top of the photo in another grow-bag. Just out of shot are the grow-bags that I shall grow basil and coriander (cilantro). I'm waiting for a nice hot day to sow the seed. Basil loves heat and sulks in cool weather. From now on, the door to this greenhouse will have to be kept shut. Sure, they look innocent enough, but these gals will SHRED unguarded greenhouses and indeed vegetable patches.

The chickens got into the greenhouse last year and riped the grow-bags to shreds trying to give themselves dust baths in the compost. It caused compost to go flying in all directions and I had to dig it out from between the glass and greenhouse frame when cleaning up earlier in the spring.
As I was so fed up with the weather and lack of sun by July last year, I sort of let the vegetable patch go. The result is that I've got plenty of weeds and grass to dig out before I can finish planting. While digging yesterday I found a handful of non-blighted potatoes. It was a little late gift from the garden.The other gift is this lovely flower bud on the lilac. It had no flowers last year. I attributed this to the lack of light. With even less light last year, I didn't expect to see any flower buds again this year but I was wrong! I'll have one! I look forward to the time when this little lilac shrub is a vigorous thug and produces armfuls of flowers. In the meantime, that little baby rosemary plant smells like the promise of summer. I feel like we will have a hot and sunny weather this year. I'll have beautiful beefsteak tomatoes. Homemade pesto with the basil I have grown . . . . curries will be made better with the aromatic coriander fresh from the greenhouse. I'll have sweet peas filling every vase and jar in the house. Courgettes and beans will be so plentiful that I'll have to give them away to neighbours. Roll on good weather!! I am ready!